There are few areas in theology where the sciences so directly impact the discussion than theological anthropology. As psychology, brain science, and sociology push forward the conversation in their own fields, philosophers and theologians work on parallel issues. In many cases, these discussions are had independent from each other, and, maybe more often than we would like to admit, they are ignored entirely. As a theologian, I can certainly understand this. Few fields seem more difficult to access than psychology. Nonetheless, in theological circles, anthropology seems set to be rethought, and it seems ready for a higher-level integration discussion. With James K. A. Smith’s work raising questions about affective anthropology and liturgy, to David Kelsey’s unwieldy Eccentric Existence (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009), it seems that anthropology is coming to the fore of the current theological imagination. Furthermore, with questions concerning integration (particularly between theology and psychology), spiritual formation, and liturgy/ecclesial formation, there is a greater need for deeper treatments of what human personhood and formation entail.
Farris and Taliaferro have put together a volume that seeks to further this conversation with what is, as far as I can tell, the best starting point into questions concerning anthropology. In particular, they have done a good job of bringing together voices from theology, the sciences, and philosophy to write about theological anthropology from within the confines of their own disciplines. To do so, the volume develops through seven sections. After an introduction, serving mostly as an overview to the volume itself, the first section offers two chapters on methodology. From there, the second section addresses the sciences and anthropology, while the third looks at various models available in the literature. The fourth section looks specifically at the imago dei, whereas the last three sections address human nature and freedom, sin and salvation, and Christological theological anthropology respectively. It should be obvious, at first glance, that each of these sections deserves an entire volume. This is certainly true. The goal of this companion is not to offer a holistic construction of each of these themes and approaches, but to navigate the field so that the reader is aware of the discussions and how certain scholars are engaging in argumentation. Incredibly, the essays do this in a short amount of space. Some of the essays do this well and others struggle to make an argument within such tight confines. But I personally found the length of the essays helpful (not too much and not too little).
If I could offer one critique, keeping in mind my praises, it is that this volume is so broad it can feel, at times, like it lacks focus. There are so many different proposals, issues, and methods employed throughout that it doesn’t feel as though the volume goes anywhere. This may not be a problem, but it is worth noting. The opposite side of that issue is that the volume does not have too broad an agenda. It seeks, rather, to present the broad scope of the field and allow the reader to become acquainted with the positions through their proponents. This focus seems to parallel the goal of the companion series, which assume that one is already working in a field, either as a graduate student or scholar, so there isn’t, on paper, any need to map the field of research and key issues and schools of thought. That said, because the field of theological anthropology reaches so widely across several disciplines, it would have been helpful to have a section that focused on mapping key developments in the field in one’s area of research. It would have proven instructive, I think, to see the parallel movements in psychology, philosophy and theology (for instance). In a discussion like this, furthermore, it would have been helpful to see the editors’ own angle on the topic, clearly leaning more on the philosophical theologians than dogmatic theologians. Overall, I think the editors put together a helpful volume that is entirely unique. Christian graduate students in these disciplines will be served as they work through it, and professors will find helpful essays for class preparation to familiarize themselves with current argumentation for a variety of views surrounding anthropology.